The European Union will be moving on to the second phase of Operation Sophia (EUNavfor-Med mission) on Wednesday, which will allow it to seize boats smuggling refugees across Mediterranean Sea, as long as it is in international waters.
The announcement was made last week.
As part of the phase two, the EU will now be able to “board, search, seize and divert vessels suspected of being used for human smuggling or trafficking on the high seas, in line with international law.”, said the press release.
Previously known as EUNavfor-Med mission, the operation was renamed “Sophia”, after a Somali baby that was born on an EU ship that was participating in the earlier phase of the mission. Sophia’s mother had been traveling for five months until she was rescued off the coast of Libya in August.
The focus of the first phase of the mission launched in June, was more about intelligence gathering, surveillance and rescue operations.
More than 350,000 refugees have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, fleeing war, conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
At least 2,700 are considered to have drowned, including more than 700 people who died in one single tragedy in April.
These dangerous journeys tend to be from Libya to Italy, but nowadays more people prefer to take the Turkey-Greece route, crossing the Aegean Sea.
The refugee influx in Europe has led to a crisis within the EU, as member countries seek solutions on what more can be done.
However, an official from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Eugenio Ambrosi, argues the current numbers of asylum seekers in Europe are “absolutely manageable”, British media reported.
He says the word “crisis” is more suitable to describe the two million Syrian refugees in Turkey, as well as, other displacements of people in northern Nigeria, the Central African Republic and other African conflict zones, rather than Europe.
The EU eventually hopes to launch the third phase of its naval mission, which involves military action against people smugglers inside Libyan territorial waters.
But this stage can only be implemented if approved by either the UN Security Council or Libya itself.